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A Wooded River Landscape with a Church and Figures
by Hendrick Avercamp
ca. 1613
Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and David T. Schiff and Annette and Oscar de la Renta Gifts, 2013
Episode 4 / 2014
First Look

His finished drawings are much rarer, and the present one is among his best of an imaginary landscape."

Landscape is one of the defining genres of Dutch seventeenth-century art, and Hendrick Avercamp was one of its most popular practitioners. The winterscapes and summerscapes, invented or observed from life, produced during his short career represent Dutch landscape in the first decades of the seventeenth century at its most attractive. The drawing presented here, the first major work by the artist to enter the Museum's collection, is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a pivotal moment in the development of the genre: in the early decades of the seventeenth century, the earlier tradition of "world landscapes"—different landscape types combined into one sweeping but highly artificial panorama—gave way to a view of the world that was closer to nature, and that became the hallmark of later seventeenth-century Dutch landscape.

Here, on a sheet hardly larger than a postcard, the artist invites the viewer to enter the composition with the woman at lower left, wandering from the woodland, past the tavern, the brook, the church, the shepherds, and the roadside cross, to a riverbank at right, from where the view leads to a city at the foot of a mountain chain. Although drawings by Avercamp survive in relatively large numbers, most are quick sketches of figures or other motifs. His finished drawings are much rarer, and the present one is among his best of an imaginary landscape. A comparable sheet bears an inscription stating that it was sold in 1613 directly by Avercamp, confirming that his finished drawings were appreciated by collectors—and produced by the artist—as works of art in their own right. They must have delighted by the charm of the composition, the detail and lightness of the execution, and the freshness of the colors—and they still are able to do so today.

Stijn Alsteens
Department of Drawings and Prints
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